Don’t bother checking the real estate listings for New Jersey’s youngest village. It’s already disappeared. “Bushville,” which was built June 1 by the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), sat in an abandoned lot across from a Dunkin’ Donuts in Jersey City. The tiny community consisted of two ramshackle tents – one medical and one dormitory –and a kitchen shack. It seemed harmless, but Jersey City Police deemed it threatening enough to tear down.
“It’s a fire hazard,” remarked one officer, who refused to give his name. “This is private property. None of these lots down here are abandoned.”
Bushville was no ordinary encampment. It is one of many projects that KWRU has organized since 1995 to raise awareness of poverty issues. Its residents were demanding “economic human rights:” housing, healthcare, education and a living wage.
KWRU’s past actions include marches, building tent cities and free food distribution. In Philadelphia, they organized a “Ridgeville” and a “Clintonville” leading to takeovers of abandoned buildings to house residents. During the 2000 Republican National Convention, an earlier version of Bushville was a center of activism.
From the beginning, the Bushville in Jersey City was the subject of police harassment. Local police officers greeted tent city residents on June 2 by threatening to turn their children over to child services. The same day, the Jersey City Police Department towed three of the protesters’ cars while NYPD officers observed from the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street. The Bushville residents got their cars back by the middle of the day after revealing inaccuracies in police reporting of the incident. However, their equipment, which includes children’s toys and camping gear, is currently being held by order of the Jersey City Police. KWRU is being charged $150 per day for storage of the seized equipment.
But the harassment didn’t stop there. Two days after it was built, nearly a dozen officers from the Jersey City Police arrived at 12:30 a.m. with a dump truck and orders to break down and haul away the encampment, evicting the two dozen people living there. Four members of KWRU were charged with “posting signs without authorization.”
“I don’t know why they can’t just leave them alone,” said onlooker Elena Gonzalez. “They ain’t even using that property.”
Activist Rocco Rosanio stresses the importance of making the issue visible, whatever the cost. “This is an issue of people turning away more than of not seeing it. If people realized, they’d want to take steps in their own lives.”
KWRU built a second Bushville June 14 under the Jersey Turnpike and were quickly shut down by state troopers.
Activist Tim Dowlin vows that “no matter how many times we’re harassed by the police, Bushville is going to happen. All we have is our voice, and they’re trying to take that away.” Dowlin says that Bushvilles may be set up in various boroughs of New York City depending on what happens in the coming weeks. KWRU is determined to maintain a presence in the New York area in the months leading up to the Republican National Convention.